It’s all about relationship

By Elizabeth McFarlane
Alison Ryan is the Youth Minister at Mary, Queen of the Family Parish in Blacktown. Photo: Elizabeth McFarlane.

Alison Ryan is the Youth Minister for Mary, Queen of the Family Parish in Blacktown and a member of the parish team.

With her background in youth and music ministry, she is a firm example of how ministry can bring faith to our future.

Holding a Bachelor of Theology from ACU and a Cert IV in Theatre Performance and Practices, she has organised national and international youth festivals for World Youth Days and has led music ministry locally and abroad.

After more than 18 years’ experience in youth ministry, both in the Antioch youth movement and other parishes, Alison believes all ministries are “about relationship”.

“When I say it’s about relationship, I am driven in my understanding of ministry by Matthew 28:19 when Jesus says to His disciples, ‘Go and make disciples,’” Alison explained.

“It’s not, go and be the best teachers you can be. It is, you are disciples who make disciples.”

Alison also remarked on the importance of removing categories that could limit our perception of ministering to young people through flawed connotations.

“We can’t keep siloing things. I’m going to be subversive and say, ditch the ‘youth’ additive, let’s focus on ministry,” Alison said.

“It’s about a widespread and rich vision of ministry for the whole parish that highlights the many and varied gifts of parishioners across generations and engages young people in the life of the community.

“There’s a huge risk when people think ‘youth ministry’ is just about youth groups or that it’s about ministering ‘to’ young people or doing something ‘for’ young people.”

Rather, Alison provides her own definition of ministry.

“Ministry is walking with people. That’s how God responds to the needs of the world. God dwelt among us. That is how we reflect God in our lives – being with people,” she explained.

“In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than a pizza night if that’s all youth ministry is in your parish. It has to be more than that, right?

“What happens when they’re not youth anymore? If you’ve told them that they’re only part of the youth group, then what’s going to keep them in the parish?

“The way that I was brought up in Antioch is that it’s not about doing something ‘for’ young people, it’s about empowering and engaging young people in all parish life.”

Alison’s approach to ministry is refreshing, as is her style. A nod towards her musical background, Alison typically sports a T-shirt hallowing a musical band of choice or a classic superhero design.

“I will never forget the first time I stepped into a Year Six class at the age of 26. The students questioned me: ‘You’re from the Church?’ From that day forward, it has always been jeans and a T-shirt because they’re not expecting someone young who loves their faith,” she explained.

When faced with questions about how sending young people to World Youth Day will benefit parishes in the here and now, Alison explained that the imperative to receive cannot be the motivation for ministry.

“Ministry can’t be about a transaction. It can’t be the expectation that if we invest in you, you have to give us something back,” she said.

“What we’re doing in youth ministry isn’t always going to show fruit here in this parish, because the problem with young people is that they don’t stay young! They move house. They go and study somewhere else. They get married.

“But if we can do ministry really well, if we can form disciples, then we’re contributing to the future of the Church, no matter where they are.”

Mary, Queen of the Family Parish holds a Youth Mass every Sunday night at 5.30pm at St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown. The OASIS youth group also runs different events throughout the month, including sports days and prayer nights.

 

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